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How We Decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

74
Models Considered
34
Hours Spent
2
Experts Interviewed
214
Consumers Consulted

Shopping Guide for the Best Printers

If you're looking for a top printer, you'll find a huge range of models offering every conceivable feature and extra. How do you decide which is best for you?

The BestReviews team looked at hundreds of inkjet and laser printers during our research.

When we buy something to test, we use our own funds to purchase the item. To ensure that our reviews remain subjective and trustworthy, we never accept free samples from manufacturers.

And when we're done testing products, we donate them to charities and other non-profit groups that can use them.

Our goal during the selection process for our product matrix, above, was to find five stand-out printers that meet our quality and performance standards while remaining affordable for the majority of home and small businesses owners.

Our five finalists will do just about everything, from rapid black and white printing to scanning, copying, automatic color duplexing, and outputting from a smartphone or tablet.

We're happy to recommend any of them.

So how did we come to these decisions? A full analysis follows.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

HP Envy 4520 Wireless All-in-One Photo Printer

Price & Speed

If you're looking for a cheap inkjet printer with all the functions of a machine that costs twice as much, the HP Envy 4520 could be your ideal. At nine black and white pages per minute and six color pages per minute, it’s a bit slow, but this multifunctional unit also offers copying and scanning, borderless printing, and wireless communication. (For example, you can print photos from your smartphone.)

Considerations

Considerations

Output Statistics

The BestReviews lab staff examined each printer’s output statistics: pages per minute, color quality, and so on.

Considerations

Features

Few printers just print any more; multifunctional models abound. What’s more, the prices of these machines are now well within reach of the average home user. Are print-only machines worth the expense? Do these models save you money or grant a better performance? Our lab staff noted and tested the features offered by each printer on our shortlist.

EXPERT TIP

The longevity of your home-printed images depends, in large part, on the ink/paper combination you use.


Staff  | BestReviews
Considerations

Connectivity Options

Most printers can still plug into a computer, but WiFi is everywhere now, and an increasing number of machines print wirelessly from smartphones and tablets. During testing, we noted the offerings of each model on our shortlist.

DID YOU KNOW?

Inkjet printers create images by squirting wet ink onto paper. As such, you can print the ink onto different fabrics, like burlap, for a fun DIY.

Considerations

Price

It's possible to buy a cheap printer for less than $50, but the faults of these bargain models frequently outweigh the savings. And, the truth is, a decent machine could cost you just a little more than $50. Even at the top end of the pricing scale, a high-quality multifunctional printer is remarkably affordable.

Read on to discover the price of each of our shortlist contenders. You can also check out our matrix, above, to discover this information.

Should you buy a laser or an inkjet printer? Yes, the laser vs. inkjet question is a big one, but other issues also figure prominently. For example, should you get a color or monochrome printer? A single-purpose or an all-in-one with scanning and faxing capability?

Color vs. Monochrome

Little difference exists between the cost of a color printer and the cost of a black and white printer. So why not have the color option? There are several reasons, actually.

The best monochrome printers are:

   •    Compact

   •    Fast

   •    Easy to use

EXPERT TIP

Always refer to your printer's manual for specific instructions on cleaning and maintenance of the machine.


Staff  | BestReviews

Although a color printer may be more cumbersome and slightly more expensive than a black and white model, the benefit is undeniable: you get color prints.

As such, some consumers find it prudent to buy a cheap monochrome printer for text printing and an all-in-one color printer for everything else.

Notably, all of the monochrome models we looked at were laser printers, designed for rapid output of large amounts of text and/or black and white images. Even the very best inkjets struggle to produce text that's as sharp (particularly at sizes below 12 point), and when they do, they run much slower because they're on a “high resolution” setting.

The best monochrome machines include print options that allow you to save toner.

Single-Function Printer vs. Multifunctional Printer

Should you buy a single or multifunctional printer? In general, this is an easy question to answer. If you can find a quality color printer with fax, scanning, and copying capabilities for the same price as a printer without those functions, the decision is a no-brainer.

However, some situations exist in which you might prefer a single-function printer. Consider the following:

  • If you want photo-realistic output of high quality, you almost certainly want a specialist machine that focuses solely on the task at hand.

  • A printer with a built-in scanner would probably serve the needs of most consumers, but if you require high-resolution scans for trade printing or graphic displays, a machine dedicated entirely to high-resolution prints could be your best bet.

  • Business owners might prefer a more robust single-function unit that can consistently handle their heavy output demands.
DID YOU KNOW?

Some modern printers can connect to every imaginable mobile device. As such, they cater to all kinds of users.

Inkjet vs. Laser

This is always going to be a difficult question to answer, and even the BestReviews lab testers had differing opinions.

However, all agreed that your final choice should depend largely on what you intend to use the printer for.

In the early days of home printers, the choice between inkjet and laser was rather straightforward. Back then, laser printers created images with superior detail, but the machines were prohibitively expensive.

Inkjets were far more affordable, but the final product wasn’t nearly as sharp.

EXPERT TIP

The quality of the paper you use affects print quality, too. Cheap paper is more absorbent, so wet ink can blur. Inkjet photo paper can be costly, but the results are excellent.


Staff  | BestReviews

Today's printers employ the same basic technologies, but much has changed.

  • Laser and inkjet printers share similar price tags. And although laser toner remains much more expensive, you get up to ten times as many pages from a cartridge.

  • Print resolution is no longer an issue. Even cheap inkjets render a decent output. The graphic quality of our inkjet finalists is well above average.
DID YOU KNOW?

An auto document feeder allows you to get substantial jobs going and come back to them when they're finished, rather than having to hand-feed them.

Features to Consider

Most inkjet and laser printers offer similar features. Almost all can communicate wirelessly with your smartphone or tablet. Many offer WiFi so you can share the printer with other users. And, as we've seen, scanning, copying, and faxing are common.

Here are some notable “other” features you might be interested in:

  • Paper Tray Capacity: If you do a lot of printing, a large-capacity paper tray comes in handy.

  • Automatic Feeding: If you print lots of envelopes or cards, automatic feeding of multiple sizes is useful.

  • Automatic Duplexing: This feature is great for those who want to execute rapid double-sided printing.

  • Borderless Printing: This is great if you want to print lots of photos, but you should check the print sizes available before making a purchase.

  • Ink Refill Subscription Program: A program such as this could save you money, but we urge consumers to think about their usage patterns before choosing a printer with this feature. It’s not necessary for everyone.

When considering the price of a printer, also consider the cost of ink or cartridges. Many printers are priced low, but their ink costs are sky high. Laser printers have a higher upfront cost, but many are cheaper when analyzed over their entire life cycle.

Staff
BestReviews

A Note About Ink Quality

Of course, you want your prints to last forever — especially if you use your printer to create copies of beloved family photos. But some inks fade over time. Here’s what you need to know about ink technology as it stands today:

  • Inkjet inks fall into two categories — dye-based and pigment-based. Dye-based inks are 100% liquid; the color is dissolved in water. Pigment-based inks have solid particles in the mix and consequently last longer.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Canon Office and Business MX922 All-in-one Printer

The Canon All-in-one Printer performs every task you might need, from scanning to copying to duplex printing. Its photo reproduction quality is particularly outstanding, but then, you might have expected that from a company that also produces bestselling cameras. Colors are particularly rich thanks to the printer’s five inks — a bonus feature that could also save you money.

  • Testing suggests that some images created by cheap replacement ink fade in as little as three months. This may be extreme, but it’s a known danger of buying remanufactured cartridges.

  • Ink purchased directly from the printer manufacturer may cost more, but the images rendered from it could last longer. The reason: this ink will probably be part pigment (the black) and part dye (the colors).

  • If you want your photo images to retain their richness for years, consider a specialist photo printer and the corresponding ink and paper. You'll pay more, but you’ll enjoy remarkable technology.
If you have to open your printer for any reason (maintenance, etc.), turn the power off, and try not to touch any hot fusers or the moving parts to be on the safe side.

Pointers

We wholeheartedly endorse all five of our chosen printers, but what if you’re still not sure which product is right for you? After all, your printing needs may differ from those of your neighbor.

Keep these pointers in mind when making your final decision —

If you need high quantities of monochrome/grayscale printing, choose a monochrome laser printer. This unit will offer you:

  • Fast printing
  • Sharp detail
  • High-volume capability
DID YOU KNOW?

The slight blurring inherent in an inkjet printer’s output is beneficial to photo printing. Why? The constantly variable tone enhances the photo’s overall quality. Many manufacturers tune nozzle performance for better results.

If you need high quantities of business printing, choose a color laser printer. This unit will offer you:

  • Fast printing

  • Fine detail

  • Quality presentation (though not best for photos)

  • High-volume capability
EXPERT TIP

Although a color laser printer offers fine details and high quality, it’s not the best for photo printing.


Staff  | BestReviews

If you need a general-purpose home or small business printer, choose a color inkjet model. This unit will offer you:

  • A lower initial investment
  • Cheaper ink
  • Good photo quality

Although inkjet cartridges are cheaper than laser toner cartridges, they don’t tend to last as long.

Staff
BestReviews

If you need large quantities of high-quality photo printing, choose a specialist color inkjet printer. This unit will offer you:

  • Exceptional visual quality
  • Prints that hold their color for decades
EXPERT TIP

What should you do with your empty inkjet cartridges? You could have them refilled, or you could donate them to charity. Some charities collect empty cartridges and recycle them in exchange for cash.


Matthew  | IT Professional, Product Manager

Other Products We Considered

We scrutinized a lot of printers before choosing our top five. Some of those that didn't make our shortlist came very close, and the following notes explain our reasoning.

We usually shy away from cheap printers, and the HP DeskJet 1112 falls into that category. But although it's cheap, it isn't badly made. Print quality isn’t bad, either. The problems are two-fold. First, it's a USB printer without an included cable. Sure, you could buy a USB cable separately, but that’s a bit of a nuisance. Second, the DeskJet 1112’s ink cartridges are small, and color printing eats them up all too quickly.

Another HP printer, the OfficeJet 4650, rates highly with lots of consumers as a great all-rounder. We can't fault its performance, but in our view, there are other contenders that simply offer better value and/or efficiency.

The Canon MX492 is a low-cost printer with a remarkable feature set for the money. But this one feels flimsy. What’s more, the WiFi can be inconsistent, and like the DeskJet 1112, no USB cable is supplied.

We were also initially intrigued by the Brother DCPL2540DW. In the end, however, we found that it just doesn’t offer the same value as its siblings. There's nothing wrong with it, but it lacks a fax function, can't do duplex scanning, and has difficulty printing longer documents.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Samsung SL-M2020W/XAA Wireless Monochrome Printer

Though it has several close competitors, the best monochrome printer is the $79 Samsung Wireless Monochrome Printer. It's got a small footprint and, at just under nine pounds, it's easy to move around. Admittedly, it’s a little disappointing that the Samsung only comes with a half-sized "sample" toner cartridge rather than a full-sized one. However, the model does offer several built-in toner-saving options.

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2 DIY Projects With Your Inkjet Printer

DIY Project

Printing on Burlap

Materials you will need: burlap, cardstock, ruler, X-Acto knife, computer, inkjet printer

  1. Measure out your piece of burlap to 8.5" by 11". Use the X-Acto knife to cut it.
  2. Repeat with the card stock.
  3. Use the masking tape to affix the burlap to the card stock.
  4. Make sure your printer settings are set to Heavy Duty.
  5. Gently feed the burlap/card stock through the printer.

Use this DIY to make customized burlap bags, wall decor and more!

DIY Project

Temporary Tattoos

Materials you will need: tattoo paper, credit card, scissors, computer, inkjet printer

  1. Design your tattoos on your computer.
  2. Print them onto the tattoo paper.
  3. Lay the adhesive sheet on top and use a credit card to smooth.
  4. Cut out the tattoo with scissors.
  5. Place the tattoo on your arm and gently rub with a wet paper towel for 30 seconds.
  6. Slowly peel the tattoo off.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.

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